Training: An introduction to IATI (Old)

Welcome to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) online training course. 

IATI was launched in 2008 and has emerged as one of the success stories of transparency and open data by providing access to critical aid information published by a range of development actors. 

This course has been developed to familiarize all stakeholders with key principles surrounding transparency and the IATI Standard.

Introduction

Learning Objectives

Development and humanitarian actors all over the world have acknowledged the need for greater transparency as a political commitment. 

As signatories to the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), publishers are expected to fulfill their commitment to transparency in a way that benefits both donors and recipients of aid. 

In this training, we will introduce you to the International Aid Transparency Initiative and its relevance to aid transparency and effectiveness.

Target Audience:

This training is for UN personnel across the world, and applies to;

  • Team leaders and Unit Managers
  • Staff involved in project management and operations
  • All other IATI practitioners


Course duration:

This training will take approximately 60 minutes to complete. 


What will you learn?

In this short training course, you will learn about IATI and the key principles surrounding aid transparency and the IATI Standard.

Learning objectives;

At the end of this training, you will be able to;

  1. Define the key principles of aid transparency and IATI, and better understand the ways in which the IATI Standard supports and promotes aid transparency
  2. Explain the process of IATI publication. In order to be successful in this initiative, it is important to understand the publication process and relevant key considerations
  3. Use IATI data, understanding how to find and use the data both within organisation and outside
  4. Understand the importance of data quality and the need for data review processes of IATI published data;
  5. Become aware of ways to champion IATI among your co-workers and counterparts outside the organisation;


Desired outcome;

This course is designed to give you the opportunity to learn about IATI as well as how to apply what you have learned to your work to improve data quality and compliance to the IATI Standard.

Commitment to aid transparency and the relevance of IATI

Aid transparency

Why transparency matters

Transparency is a key principle of development effectiveness. 

Information on who is funding what, where and to what effect can be transformational and can lead to higher development effectiveness. Improving transparency can lead to;

  • Better planning and coordination: Access to timely and accurate information enables development partners to plan their work and manage resources effectively. 

  • Effective decision making: Having necessary information available will lead to improved policy formulation and more evidence-based decision making 

  • Greater Accountability: Holding aid organisations accountable for the use of aid resources and ensuring that aid resources reach their intended recipients 

  • Improved beneficiary feedback process: Making relevant data available helps citizens to voice their feedback and engage with policy makers. 

  • Maximizing development impact: More widespread availability of information enables effective collaboration and maximize development impact.

What is IATI

The International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) is a voluntary multi-stakeholder initiative aimed at increasing transparency by enabling organisations to publish information on their aid, development, and humanitarian activities in a common format.

The following short video will provide a brief introduction to what it is and how it works.

The need for the IATI Standard

At the High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Busan in 2011, development actors committed to "implement a common open standard for electronic publication of timely, comprehensive and forward-looking information on resources provided through development cooperation,” that takes into account the statistical reporting of the OECD-DAC and work of IATI

The Busam commitment highlighted the need for adopting the IATI Standard and United Nations agencies were part of this agreement and are required to fulfill the commitment.

But why IATI? The significance;

A number of systems and databases exist to report and capture aid information, but IATI is the only recognized system to make aid and development information easier to access, use, and understand in an openly accessible and comparable format

IATI provides the common format for organisations to publish their information which can be compared and combined with other datasets. It is aimed at improving the availability of historic, current and future resource flows reported by a broader range of development cooperation providers.

IATI has been designed to enable all organisations to:

  • Publish in a standardized format so datasets from various sources can be easily combined
  • Update regularly on a monthly, quarterly, or six-monthly basis, to keep information as current as possible
  • Publish data using a flexible standard that allows easy adoption by all kinds of development cooperation providers
  • Publish in one central location. The IATI Registry provides links to the data published by all organisations using the IATI Standard
  • Provide, where possible, forward-looking information, enabling developing country governments to plan and budget more clearly and comprehensively
  • The common format makes the information published comparable

Publishing detailed information about your organisation's activities to IATI demonstrates and strengthens the organisation's reputation as one that is committed to achieving positive results by effectively managing aid resources. Publishing to IATI helps the publishing organisation to;

  • Fulfills the Busan commitment to transparency and help to promote your organisation's image as a transparent global development organisation

  • Satisfies requirements of donor countries and other stakeholders to publish information transparently.  

  • Provides access to internal information in a format which can be compared to, and combined with, other aid organisations' data and used effectively by data users including developing country governments and other aid actors.

  • Promotes collaboration with other development partners by making quality information available for better decision-making

  • Improves internal data quality which in turn helps your organisation to better manage aid resources. 

Key dimensions of IATI

Making information transparent alone will not help to improve aid effectiveness. The information must be used to make better decisions. IATI operates on three key dimensions which can contribute to better decision-making and greater effectiveness. 

It is critical that IATI publishers pay close attention to these important dimensions in publishing data: 

Timely

Data is kept up-to-date and updated regularly. 

Comprehensive

The publisher reports the maximum number of activities (eg. all development projects) and includes the maximum level of information (IATI elements) on those activities.  

Forward-looking

Publishing data that is forward looking allows government to use it for planning and budgeting.

IATI Process - explained!

How it works

The roles and responsibilities relevant for ITAI involve:

  • Publisher
    • Data collection
    • Data publication
  • User
    • Data search
    • Data use

Data collection and publication

Organisations collect and store a large amount of data as part of their day to day activities. Mostly, these data remain internal, unless the organisation decides to make these data publicly available. Once an organisation joins IATI, it has to first decide what information it is able to publish. Initially, the organisation may start publishing a basic set of information and over time increasing the volume and quality of information it shares. 

Publishing data to the IATI Standard starts with preparing the organisation, including establishing the business case for the organisation, securing buy-in from senior management and other stakeholders and setting up teams and processes to start publishing.

The information to IATI is published in eXtensibleMarkup Language (XML) file format in two different data files - organisation and activity. The organisation file contains financial information and documents at the corporate and country level, while the activity file captures activity (eg. Project) level information and documents.

Over time, publishers look to improve their datasets by increasing the amount of information published, updating the datasets more frequently, and more importantly - improving the quality of data.

The IATI Standard continues to evolve to accommodate emerging needs around development cooperation and humanitarian responses in accordance with a rigorous and consultative change management process. IATI publishers are expected to keep up with standard updates while improving and complying with the Standard.

Key considerations;

  • Publishing policies: Determine what information the organisation can publish
  • Data specification: Decide what level of information is to be included in the IATI dataset
  • Technology for publishing: Set up systems and tools required for data collection, XML generation, and publishing
  • Skills and knowledge: Establish a team with the knowledge on IATI and technical skills to implement the IATI Standard within the organisation
  • Publication processes: Sustain publication processes, describing all IATI related activities from data collection to publishing.  


What activity information can be published to IATI?

The IATI activity standard contains the following types of information:

  • Basic project information such as project title and description, project start and end dates, status, donor and implementing organisations and contact details
  • Geopolitical information such as recipient country or region and sub-national locations
  • Classifications such as sectors, policy markers, humanitarian scope, aid type, flow type, finance type, collaboration type and tied status
  • Financial information such as budget, expenditure, disbursement, donor commitments and incoming funds
  • Related document and links such as project level documents (objective, budget, evaluations, results, impact appraisals, procurement and contract documents) and activity web pages
  • Performance information such as conditions and results data

IATI is a voluntary initiative which allows publishers to determine what information they will make available using the Standard. However, the publisher needs to satisfy the minimum requirement by including the mandatory information required by the Standard, while deciding to publish additional information voluntarily. The publisher also has the option to publish information on all of its activities or only selected activities. The decision on what to publish and what not to publish is generally driven by the organisation's Information Disclosure Policy (or open data policy) and the data availability.

Depending on the IATI Standard version in use, the publisher is required to include the mandatory elements required by the specific version of the Standard.

The latest Standard version 2.02 requires the following activity elements;

  • A valid activity identifier: A globally unique identifier for the activity (eg. System generated project or programme id)
  • A valid reporting organisation identifier: The identification of the organisation issuing the report (eg. The reporting id of a UN agency is the OECD channel code of the respective agency)
  • Title: A short, human-readable title that contains a meaningful summary of the activity (eg. Project title stated in the project document)
  • Description: A longer, human-readable description containing a meaningful description of the activity (eg. Project descriptions used in the document)
  • Activity date: The planned and actual start and completion dates of the activity (eg. Planned Project start and end dates available in the system)
  • Activity status: Current status of the published activity (eg. implementation or completion)
  • Participating organisation: At least one of the organisations involved with the activity (eg. donor or implementing organisation)
  • Recipient Country or Region: The country or region that will benefit from the activity
  • Sector: Classifying the purpose of the activity. (eg. the OECD DAC sector or SDG on which project or programme fund is spent)


What is an Information Disclosure Policy (IDP)?

Public disclosure is guided by an organisation’s Information Disclosure Policy (IDP), which is not only used to define what type of information the organisation can make public but also highlights the restrictions through “exclusions” for confidentiality, security purposes, and commercial protection. It is also used for expressing the commitment towards transparency, both internally and externally.

The IDP not only provides the guidelines for IATI data publication but also provides the general guidelines for organisation's public disclosure. It also explains how the public can request additional information and the procedures for handling those requests.

Organisations should consider adopting good practices in developing disclosure policies and make their employees follow the policy by providing clear guidelines for making information available;

  • Policy should be aimed at providing maximum access to information
  • In contrast to spelling out the information that can be published, an organisation with high ambition would set out a clear list of exclusions and allow disclosure of any information in its possession that is not in the exclusion list
  • Allow exclusions but consider only when it is truly necessary. Do not allow the principle of exclusion to hinder the effective disclosure.
  • Set out clear procedures for requesting information which is not readily available
  • Recognize requesters’ rights to an appeals process when a request for information is denied.

Data search: Where can I find IATI data?

IATI Data Store CSV Query Builder

IATI datastore is an online service that collects all data published to the IATI Standard into a single queryable source. The store is mainly aimed at providing services for data technologists, analysts, and developers. However, the CSV query builder in datastore can be easily used by less-technical users to generate CSV spreadsheet of the IATI data they are interested in.

Finding information that you are looking for can be challenging, especially when you don’t know how to use XML data files. IATI query builder allows users to extract the IATI data in different ways such as by country or publisher or sector in CSV spreadsheet.

Access link: http://datastore.iatistandard.org/query/index.php 

 (Create a short video to show how the Query builder is used)

Transparency portals

The data published to the IATI Registry is in the XML format, which is difficult for general users to understand. Transparency portals provide user-friendly data where the public can easily search for information they are looking for. Following are a few examples of transparency portals available to the public:

D-portal.org

D-portal is the official IATI country-based information platform that tracks resource flows and aims to provide developing countries and others with information that can help plan and monitor development activities. It presents all data published to the IATI Registry and enables organisations' data to be compared with one another at country and sector levels. 

open.undg.org

The UNDG portal presents the data published by UN agencies to IATI in a similar format to d-portal.org. In addition, this portal provides the aggregated view of aid flow from UN agencies to partner countries and sectors.  

Organisation transparency portals:

An IATI publisher could present the same information that it publishes to IATI on its own transparency portal. This provides the public with easy access to the information published to IATI.  

This short video briefly demonstrates how users can access to the data published by one of the UN Agencies, UNDP on open.undp.org.

Data use

IATI has enabled various types of organisations to publish a great deal of humanitarian and development data in a comparable format which has opened the door for a range of possible use cases, such as;

  • Data Visualization: Currently, IATI data is mainly used to showcase the organisation's commitment to transparency and the credibility as a development partner. Data portals are created by using IATI data to visually present comprehensive information about the organisation and its activities.
  • Data analysis: D-portal and CSV Query Builder help find who is funding what and where within a country. Partner countries use these details to analyse the external resources coming into their countries to lead in coordinating development partners and to direct resources to sectors or areas that needed most.
  • Data integration: IATI data has been successfully tested for automated data integration into partner country Aid Information Management Systems (AIMS). An effective integration will allow partner countries to avoid the painstaking manual effort of inputting data into AIMS. It will also increase the information available for AIMS by providing data from those IATI publishing donors who are not part of the local AIMS.

Note: Publishers are urged to pay close attention to the data quality. This will increase the confidence of users who need to be able to rely on the data for their work.

How an organisation puts IATI data into use

IATI data has been used by various stakeholders for planning, budgeting, monitoring and advocacy purposes. But IATI publishers often focus only on publishing, without taking advantage of the wealth of IATI data for their own planning and decision-making processes;


  • IATI data provides insights of an organisation's activities around the world and can be used as a quick access point to search and find information on its own activities alongside that of other organisations. This can promote increased coordination among development actors at all stages of a project.

  • At the project planning phase,  IATI data can be used to identify other development partners working in a sector or location in order to leverage synergies and avoid duplication.

  • IATI data helps organisations to produce high-quality internal data which can be used for improving internal management and programme efficiency. 

  •  IATI data enables donors to gain insights into where the money has gone and what results were achieved.  IATI data is used to improve donor relations by providing access to up-to-date information on those activities funded by the respective donors. It serves as a single point of access to relevant information and critical documents. 

  • IATI data can be used as an effective communication tool. Agency transparency portals (eg. open.undp.org and d-portal.org) can be used to demonstrate project interventions and results effectively to donors and partner countries. 

  • The IATI data can be used for dialogue between a donor and a recipient.   

Data quality and completeness

Data quality assurance

Open data provides a strong incentive for all IATI publishers to improve the quality of information they share, and this begins with capturing quality information in their internal systems.

The publication of poor quality data could be harmful to organisation's reputation and would have little value to users if they do not believe it to be reliable. Publishing accurate and complete information which is clear, jargon-free and easy to understand should therefore be a chief priority for publishers. 

The following actions can help publishers ensure that all information provided is accurate, complete and up-to-date;

  • Prepare IATI specific guidelines for data input: In order to generate quality data, it is important that the staff involved in providing data is aware of the quality of their data. Sharing organisation-wide IATI related guidelines will help ensure all relevant staff are sufficiently aware of data quality requirements. 
  • Embed IATI related functions into regular project management and monitoring processes: This step creates and strengthens the culture of transparency throughout the project implementation cycle.
  • Develop an internal dashboard to monitor data quality: Publishers may develop an internal transparency dashboard which enables project managers to review their project information and ensure that all information provided is accurate, complete and up-to-date for IATI publishing.
  • Carry out periodic data review exercises with country offices (CO): Having a regular data review exercise with field offices  will help to ensure that project managers have taken adequate actions to confirm the data availability and quality
  • Establish a feedback mechanism with internal and external data users: Feedback from data users is essential to ensure the published data is in fact usable, and if not, to know how it could be improved.

Transparency assessments

Transparency and accountability should be at the core of aid organisations' work and it is vital to improving trust and confidence in development work. IATI data is often used by donors and other independent agencies to assess a publisher's performance on transparency indicators. Examples of these assessments are described here. 

The Aid Transparency Index

The Aid Transparency Index is an annual transparency assessment carried out by Publish What You Fund (PWYF), an international NGO based in the United Kingdom. It is the most widely recognised independent measure of aid transparency, and currently, assesses the aid transparency among major aid organisations. After an initial pilot assessment in 2011, the Aid Transparency Index was first launched in 2012 and has become the global benchmark for aid transparency.

The Index methodology assesses IATI data according to multiple indicators, developed following the key principles of IATI that the data must be;

  • Timely and current

  • Open and comparable

  • Comprehensive

  • Forward-looking

Based on the final score, PWYF ranks each organisation in the Index and places them into five categories – Very good, good, fair, poor and very poor. 


Global Partnership Transparency Indicator

The Global Partnership for Effective Development Co-operation (the ‘Global Partnership’) was established in Busan in 2011, and carries out regular global monitoring exercises to track the progress on the implementation of development effectiveness principles through a range of indicators, focusing on strengthening developing country institutions, increasing transparency and predictability of development co-operation, enhancing gender equality, and supporting greater involvement of civil society, trade unions, parliaments, and private sector in development efforts. Transparency is one of the ten indicators. 

The transparency assessment is based on the three key dimensions - Timeliness, Comprehensiveness, and Forward-looking, and these assess IATI data along with OECD CRS and FSS data to provide a four category scale rating from ‘Needs improvement’ to ‘Excellent'. 


Donor reviews

Donor countries are increasingly recognizing the importance of IATI as a reporting standard, and donors such as the United Kingdom’s DFID and the Netherlands have already made IATI reporting as a mandatory requirement for their implementing partners. Transparency has become an important aspect of multilateral aid, and the organisations are now subject to scrutiny on what they publish and what they do not publish.

For example, DFID carries out a Multilateral Development Review which assesses the performance across the multilateral system examining the agencies receiving funding from DFID. 'Transparency and accountability' is one of the three components used in the assessment framework for assessing the organisational strength, and IATI publishing is the indicator to determine the transparency component.

Recap

Things to remember

1. First and foremost understand the requirements. Knowing the requirements will help you better prepare for collecting complete and accurate data

2. Buy in. Understanding the corporate priority of being a transparent organisation and accepting the responsibilities in making it a reality will help you embed IATI-related functions into your work routine effectively

3. Share all information available, but be conscious of exclusions. Make sure all relevant information is shared but make sure not to share anything contained in the information disclosure policy exclusion list.

4. Know your systems and internal procedures for data input. Knowing the steps involved will help you provide information effectively and reduce the time spent on data input or search.

5. Always review the data before uploading. Make sure you always double-check the details you input to ensure the completeness and accuracy of the information provided.

6. Regularly monitor what you are publishing

7. Use your judgement. What to publish or not is guided by the IDP, but not all circumstances are explicitly specified. So, be aware of the consequences of making sensitive information available for IATI publication and if you are not sure, seek advice from colleagues in your legal or transparency teams.

8. Don't forget to use the data as well as publish data

 

Congrats!

Thanks for completing the course! I hope this course has helped you to understand the IATI implementation process better and lead to perform IATI related tasks better in future.